Toothless, the panther-like Night Fury Dragon burst onto the scene in 2010 in the original “How To Train Your Dragon,” and has stayed in our hearts ever since. That first installment was completely new, with a concept and characters both fresh and fun.
Toothless’ friendship with the main human hero, Hiccup, has always been a driving force behind the movies, and the subsequent television show. Best friends, their bond forged with fire (figuratively and literally). They’ve gone on many adventures, and kindly taken us along with them for the ride.
“How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” follows Hiccup and Toothless on their latest exploits. After the events of the last film, Hiccup is now Chief of his Viking village of Berk, following the death of his father, Stoick the Vast. Toothless, having defeated the Alpha Dragon is now the King of Dragons, the new Alpha that all other Dragons follow and respect.
Berk has become, thanks to Hiccup’s efforts, a sort of dragon reserve, where the dragons they liberate from catchers can live free from harm. It makes for a colorful village, but even though most villages have adapted to lives with dragons around, it slowly but surely becomes less and less practical.
There is a big baddie in the film of course, in the form of Grimmel, played by Academy Award winner, F. Murray Abraham. Abraham’s Grimmel is a departure from the previous villain, physically unimposing, and yet a great deal more cerebral, and so perhaps more frightening and deadly. He plays Grimm as a cunning and calculating adversary with a subtle, understated air of menace.
Cate Blanchett, best known for playing Lady Galadriel in “The Lord Of The Rings” movies as well as Hela in “Thor: Ragnarok,” provides the voice of Hiccup’s mother, Valka; and Gerard Butler of “300” and “Olympus Has Fallen” fame returns in flashbacks as Hiccup’s father, Stoick.
The first “How To Train Your Dragon” featured some of the best flying sequences ever created in an animated film, thanks to no small part to the contributions of Roger Deakins. The famed, award-winning cinematographer consulted on the movie, bringing a level of realism to the flying acrobatics of the dragons. He returns to his advisory role in this third film once again filling the screen with aerial photography that will have audiences gripping their seats. For this reason alone, the movie is worth the iMax ticket.
For most people perhaps the large aerial set-pieces may be the main draw of the series, but in truth, the characters and their relationships are the real attraction. This trilogy is rare in the world of animation in that it allows for its characters to grow and change. In three films we’ve seen Hiccup go from a scrawny little teenager looking to find where he fits in the world to the new chief of his village, and now to leader and protector of his people. He’s aged, and matured, as has Astrid, his lady-love.
The one constant in everything has been Toothless, who, more than a noble steed of a dragon or loyal pet, is a loyal friend and equal. Toothless himself has also grown, now not just a last-of-his-kind Night Fury who found a home, but now also a leader of his own flight of dragons.
The star power of the voice cast, the flashy eye-candy of the flights on dragon-back, the new villain, all of these are secondary to the friendship they share. The real conflict is what happens now that these two best-of-friends are starting to grow apart?
In the movie we are introduced to a new love, as along the way Hiccup and Toothless meet a Light Fury, a pure white female version of Toothless. The dark-skinned dragon is smitten of course, as will everyone be in the theater.
Toothless’ awkward attempts a courting the Light Fury are genuinely touching and funny. They also display excellent subtle animation, as the entire exchange is carried out completely without words.
We know she’s a complication. We know she’ll be a distraction for Toothless but we also feel happy for him as he is finally not alone. Because now he’s found another of his kind, and with her the promise of a companionship Hiccup could never provide.
“Hidden World” is intended to be the last “How To Train Your Dragon” movie. Once the first movie became a success, director Dean DeBlois planned the continuation as a trilogy, with a definite ending, and an ultimate fate for our two leads.
But fear not, dear viewer. The entirety of the movie may feel a bit rushed, but the entire emotional weight of the characters developed and brought forth from the previous movies comes to the fore, in a touching ending that is both heartwarming and bittersweet, but no less than the one our beloved characters have earned over and over again and rightfully deserve.
And so for those watching, the final moments of the film are sad, yet satisfying. We will miss them, of that there is no doubt. But the wonder of animation and film is that we can always pay them a visit anytime we want to, whether through streaming services like Netflix or though the inevitable boxed-set of blu-rays, or reruns of the many seasons of the television show. We can always relive our adventures with them.
And one day, should the “How To Train Your Dragon” story continue, we’ll all be happily waiting.